ST. PAUL - Hank Marotske’s mother allowed her children one meal a week.
“That pot of whatever she cooked had to last a week,” he said.
When the food ran out one time, his mother caught Marotske trying to sneak food out of a cabinet.
“She threw me from the counter, across the trailer and stomped on my stomach so hard that I coughed up blood,” the Twin Cities man told a Minnesota House committee Wednesday before it unanimously passed a bill that supporters hope will help prevent child abuse.
Marotske said he was in eight school districts by sixth grade, and while he stayed with foster parents, he always was given back to his mother.
“All of my case management meetings were all around what was my mom going to do,” he said.
One of the key changes in the bill, which still must pass several more committees before reaching the full house, is to focus on the children instead of parents.
Marotske said his life would have been better had his needs, not his mother’s wishes, governed child welfare decisions.
The goal of the bipartisan legislation, Sen. Kathy Sheran said, “is to place stronger protections for children facing possible maltreatment.”
The Mankato Democrat and Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, authored the bill after the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean in 2013 in west-central Minnesota. News stories indicated that multiple reports of child abuse had been ignored.
Kresha said that the bottom line of the bill is finding ways that courts, law enforcement officers and child protection workers can better coordinate efforts to protect children.
Children, Kresha said, are “our most valuable and vulnerable” resources.
Allowing child abuse investigators to look at 5-year-old records should help, he said. That is a year longer than now allowed.
The change could help alert investigators of problems, which usually happen to children 5 years old or younger, he said.
The proposal also allows more communicating among those involved in child abuse work, and requires law enforcement agencies to get more of the reports.
The bill, Sheran said, “will give the professionals information they need.”
Sheran said that about 70 percent of child abuse reports are dealt with by “family assessments” that do not involve law enforcement. Those assessments do not prioritize child safety, she added.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said part of the problem in investigating child abuse cases is that governmental entities tend not to work with each other well. The bill would require more cooperation.
The bill would cost the state money, but how much has not been determined.
Sheran said that $42 million in state money has been cut from child abuse programs in the past decade.
Kresha said that he hopes Gov. Mark Dayton includes money for child abuse help in the budget he releases Tuesday.
Kresha said that in many rural areas, such as where he lives, that cooperation is easier than in urban areas. Often, he said, rural agencies involved in child abuse investigations are housed in the same building, while in big cities they may be in buildings scattered over a wide area.
However, Kresha added, urban areas often have more resources than rural Minnesota.